JONATHAN MEIBURG is a bird guy. But you don't need to be told that the leader of Austin's Shearwater has a master's degree in ornithology, because his music is speckled with the lore and lexicon of birds.
His band is named for a seabird, after all, and the new album is titled "Rook." The music offers plenty of opportunities to use the word "soaring," too, but those high-flown moments — and occasional jolts of shattering musical thunder — are balanced with stretches of intimate beauty starring Meiburg's goose bumps-inducing voice. He's the rare vocalist who deserves the frequent Jeff Buckley comparisons, though there are only superficial similarities.
Until recently, Shearwater wasn't Meiburg's only non-bird project. He was also part of the band Okkervil River before he recently made his amicable exit official.
"I just got tired of people talking about Shearwater as an Okkervil side project because it's completely inaccurate," he says. "Calling something a side project is just the kiss of death for it. The very word side project turns something into an extra credit assignment no matter what."
And you might think Meiburg puts aside his ornithological studies when he's immersed in making music, but he notes that there's nothing stopping him from keeping up with the latest journals between tour stops. And, he says, "the birds are still around, you know."
You can even see him at work. Just go to YouTube, type in Shearwater and you'll find video of Meiburg with a survey team in the Falkland Islands searching for striated caracaras, aka Johnny rooks.
Meiburg's also pretty familiar with Atlanta. His parents live here.
"I have this sort of long-standing relationship with Atlanta, even though I've never really lived there for more than a few months," he says, just a week or so before heading back here to play the EARL.
"My mom grew up there, so we would make family trips down there to see my grandfather. And my mom's two sisters both live there also. So it's a place I've been going all my life.
"I feel like I've lived there, but it never really quite happened," he says, "except I did work at a Mail Boxes Etc. for a few months up in Dunwoody."
Meiburg's come a long way from that job. He's the primary architect of one of this year's finest albums, and, as the online music site Pitchfork (www.pitchforkmedia.com) put it in last week's glowing review, "As impressive and uniformly gorgeous a record as 'Rook' is, the band's best work is likely still to come."
• THE 411: Shearwater with Silver Lakes, Jeffrey Butzer. $10. 9:30 p.m. June 13. The EARL, 488 Flat Shoals Ave. S.E., Atlanta. 404-522-3950, www.badearl.com.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.